2005 May 22 Sunday
Lessons From The Newsweek Koran Episode

Recently Muslim in several countries rioted in response to a Newsweek article claimings Korans were kicked around and flushed down a toilet by Guantanamo interrogators in order to break down Muslim interrogation subjects. Robert Spencer argues for seeing the Muslim response to the report as the biggest problem.

When in April EBay offered a consecrated host for sale, imagine if Catholics had rioted and seventeen people were killed.

The media would have been full of stories about the dark side of the “Christian Right.”

Imagine if, when Muslims desecrated the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus in 2000, destroying it with hammers, rampaging Jewish mobs had killed dozens of Palestinians.

The establishment media response would again have inundated us with stories about the heroic Palestinians and their Israeli oppressors.

Neither of those things really happened. But seventeen people have been killed and hundreds wounded in riots by Muslims since Newsweek published its story about an American interrogator flushing a Qur’an down the toilet at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

Spencer says the biggest problem here is that Muslims in many countries would respond to the Newsweek article by rioting and killing in the first place.

Spencer argues there have been wrong two main reactions to the Newsweek story: First, on Right some argue that Newsweek was irresponsible for running the story and should be blamed for the result. Some make that argument based on the point that the story might not be true. Others go further and say regardless of whether the story is true Newsweek shouldn't have run it because basically we know how those Muslims would react. In this line of thinking the media have an obligation in the war against terrorist, radical Islamic, or whatever we are fighting to not provide material suitable for propaganada.

The second reaction, coming mostly from the Left, argues that we shouldn't have done stuff like reports of prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo or the invasion of Iraq or support for Israel or assorted other things that have made Muslims feel aggrieved. This argument assumes moral responsibility rests chiefly on the shoulders of white males or America and that anyone non-European, non-white, or culturally non-Western is either not morally rseponsible for what they do or automatically justified due as a result of victimhood from Western white male oppression.

But both of these reactions are misguided. The Muslim reaction to the Newsweek story - like the Muslim reaction to Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses or the Muslims reaction to Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali's movie Submission - is radically different than, say, the reaction to Andres Serrano's Piss Christ. No one killed Serrano. He didn't have to go under 24 hour a day police protection and go into hiding. The Muslim reaction is an assertion of the moral legitimacy of measures to protect their religion from any and all criticism. That assertion is incompatible with classical Western liberalism and that assertion makes Islam incompatible with Western society.

If the critics of the Bush Administration handling of interrogations at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and other sites wanted to state "Well, given that Muslims believe in a religion that asserts its supremancy and demands unversal subservience to Muslim religious claims and given that we need to avoid insulting their illiberal sensitivities in order to fight terrorism we have got to give deference to Islam that it doesn't deserve" then I could see seriously considering their argument. But of course they aren't going to say that.

One Muslim semi-Westernized intellectual claims that mistreatment of the Koran is spiritual torture.

'This is the ultimate spiritual torture,'' said Muqtedar Khan, a non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution who studies Islam and world politics. ''If this was done, it is the ultimate blow.''

Think about that. Seriously, should all the people in the world be forced to treat some book as sacred just because the adherents of a single religion claim that noone should be able to mistreat it? This sounds like a global equivalent of the push for a constitutional amendment to ban US flag burning.

Often the wiser course may be to avoid insulting a person's or group's beliefs or values. But if we can't insult some group's beliefs without getting marked for death (e.g. Salman Rushdie or Theo van Gogh) then we are less free regardless of whether we insult them or not. I don't want to live in a society like Holland where some elected officials live under police protection due to their criticisms of Islam.

Muslims responded to the Newsweek report on Koran abuse by rioting in several countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

By the end of the week, the rioting had spread from Afghanistan throughout much of the Muslim world, from Gaza to Indonesia. Mobs shouting "Protect our Holy Book!" burned down government buildings and ransacked the offices of relief organizations in several Afghan provinces. The violence cost at least 15 lives, injured scores of people and sent a shudder through Washington, where officials worried about the stability of moderate regimes in the region.

Laura Bush states the obvious.

"In the United States, if there's a terrible report, people don't riot and kill other people," she said. "And you can't excuse what they did because of the mistake - you know, you can't blame it all on Newsweek."

Differences in values between different cultures are large and in many cases incompatible. Will Laura Bush learn any lessons about incompatible cultures from this episode? If she does will she try to teach them to George?

Azza Basarudin, a UCLA graduate student in Middle Eastern Studies, recently complained that when she bought a used Koran on Amazon.com from Bellwether books she discovered that someone had written "Death to all Muslims" on the inside cover. She reacted to this as if she were being persecuted and complained to the Muslim Public Affairs Council which proceeded to lodge a series of complaints and draw press attention to the incident. Daniel Pipes sees this as another example of Muslims demanding special rights for their religion at the expense of the freedom of the American public at large.

(5) The idea that a Muslim has the right, without proof, to accuse a non-Muslim of blasphemy, as Basarudin and MPAC have done, brings to mind the notorious anti-blasphemy laws in force in Pakistan. There, as the World Council of Churches explained in 2000, those laws "have become a major tool in the hands of extremists to settle personal scores against members of the religious minorities particularly Christians." In the United States, the blasphemy accusation serves as the basis for a Jesse Jackson-like corporate shakedown (note MPAC's demand for Amazon to fund its programming).

(6) That Amazon suspended Bellwether from selling Korans via Amazon is a symbolic punishment rather than a substantive one, but it matters nonetheless. Can one imagine any other book's defacement leading to such a penalty?

(7) This episode is yet another instance of Islamist organizations relentlessly seeking special privileges for Islam. At a time when American Catholics must endure "art" that consists of the crucifix in urine and a Virgin Mary made in part of elephant dung, why should American Muslims be indulged in their exquisite sensibilities? As Stephen Schwartz keeps repeating, if Islam is to flourish in America, it must adapt to America.

Used book reseller Bellwether Books should not be held responsible for what is written inside a used book. When you buy a used book over the web you are taking a very obvious gamble on ripped pages, scrawed comments, highlighting markets, and all the rest. No groups which attempts to elevate an insult written in a book should be able to demand any sort of restitution or donation to its cause by book sellers (as MPAC has predictably tried to do with Amazon). My attitude: Grow a thicker skin or emigrate. If you don't like freedom of speech then leave.

View from the Right blogger Lawrence Auster, respondng to the Pipes article, argues for an even more drastic response to illiberal Islam: Deportation.

Stories like this need to be covered, but the problem is, we can keep writing about these things forever and it will make no essential difference. The curse of having these fanatics in our face will continue. If we don’t want ourselves and all the generations that come after us to have to keep dealing with this stuff, there’s only one answer: initiate a net out-migration of Muslims from the U.S and the West, year after year, until the numbers of those that remain are tiny, their Muslim identity weak, and their power non-existent.

You, Mr. Pipes, want to manage the Muslim problem, a job that will never end and that leaves them in our face, forever. I and the people who think like me want to solve the Muslim problem.

Whether Auster's preferred response is reasonable depends in large part on the nature of Islam. Auster's response will seem illiberal by many. But if the more pessimistic Western interpretations of Islam are correct then toleration of Islam amounts of toleration of intolerance. In my view the Dutch ought to deport every single Muslim who says Theo van Gogh or Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Rita Verdonk or Job Cohen or Ahmed Aboutaleb deserve to be killed.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian immigrant to the Netherlands who is an elected member of the Dutch Parliament, has renounced Islam. With the slain Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh she made the film Submission which offers a highly critical view of Islam. Radical Muslims in the Netherlands assassinated van Gogh and Hirsi Ali now lives under constant and mostly secluded guard due to numerous death threats she has received from Muslims in the Netherlands. Hirsi Ali advocates a complete stop of Muslim immigration into Europe and in favor of an intellectual revolution in Islam that is in some respects analogous to the outcome of the Protestant Reformation.

Hirsi Ali argues that there is less a problem with migration in general, than with its Muslim component in particular, and that she should know, because she is herself a Muslim migrant. Hopes for a moderate Islam are only meaningful, she argues, if it is possible to chip away the theological brickwork - constructed, she believes, on a foundation of female oppression - which permeates the structure of the religion. But Islam, she says, is unable to endure criticism or change, and is essentially at odds with European values. With up to 20 million Muslims living in the EU, the journey she has taken in the past 16 years from Africa to Europe, from asylum seeker to politician, and from devotion to apostasy, has come to appear central to the story of the crisis of multiculturalism on the continent. This month, Time magazine selected her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world - an odd but remarkable acknowledgement for a 35-year-old Somali who four years ago was unknown, even in the Netherlands.

Note, however, that the early stages of the Protestant Reformation were highly intolerant of anyone who didn't adhere to the dominant Protestant Chuch in each area of Europe where new non-Catholic Churches developed. The Protestant Reformation took centuries to play out. Changes in beliefs have to take place across generations since many people will not change their beliefs as they get older. Therefore while I wish success to those who are trying to reform Islam as a practical matter we have to accept that as things now stand Islam is not compatible with a free Western liberal society. Also, the basic underlying texts of Islam strike me as more problematic for a reformation than the Bible was for Christianity. Islam's texts just leave less wiggle room for a reinterpretation.

The other problem with the prospects for an Islamic reformation is that the Islamic societies just do not have the general level of intellectual ferment that would support an religious intellectual revolution. While I do not have any statistics handy the figures in the past I've seen appallingly low figures on the rate of new books published in Arabic, for example. The Arab countries are not full of readers and thinkers who are eagerly seeking out new ways to look at life, society, and religion. So I don't see how a serious intellectual revolution in Islam could spread in Muslim countries.

Allowing Muslims to immigrate to the West might be justifiable from the standpoint of grand strategy if those Muslims living in the West would start an intellectual movement that would reform all of Islam along more liberal and tolerant lines. But the number of Muslim living in Western societies is already large enough to allow newer and more liberal intellectual strains of Islam to develop. Further Muslim immigration into the West seems imprudent and may well be folly.

Thanks to Raj for the pointer to the Guardian article on Ayaan Hirsi Ali and thanks to Rochi Ebner for the pointer to the Robert Spencer article.

Update: Writing for the sometimes conservative National Review Online Andrew McCarthy takes on knee jerk right wing partisan attacks on Newsweek as missing the point.

The outpouring of righteous indignation against Newsweek glides past a far more important point. Yes, we're all sick of media bias. But "Newsweek lied and people died" is about as worthy a slogan as the scurrilous "Bush lied and people died" that it parrots. And when we engage in this kind of mindless demagoguery, we become just another opportunistic plaintiff — no better than the people all too ready to blame the CIA because Mohammed Atta steered a hijacked civilian airliner into a big building, and to sue the Port Authority because the building had the audacity to collapse from the blow.


Sorry, but I couldn't care less about Newsweek. I'm more worried about the response and our willful avoidance of its examination. Afghanistan has been an American reconstruction project for nearly four years. Pakistan has been a close American "war on terror" ally for just as long. This is what we're getting from the billions spent, the lives lost, and the grand project of exporting nonjudgmental, sharia-friendly democracy? A killing spree? Over this?

I'm surprised that NRO would run an article so critical of thoughtless right wing demagoguery. Good for them.

McCarthy complains about the "soft bigotry of low expectations" coming from right-wingers (I hesitate to call them conservatives) who support democracy building in the Muslim countries. Well, low expectations certainly are at least inconsistent with support for democracy promotion as a key strategy in reduce the risk of terrorism. But what is wrong? The low expectations or the support for democracy building? In my view a realistic realistic appraisal of all the available evidence on the Muslim countries leads logically to low expectations. Therefore the neocon Bush Administration project to export "sharia-friendly democracy" is an exercise in folly.

Yes Andrew, we just got a killing spree, over this. Integrate this evidence into your view of the Muslim countries.

If you are not a long time ParaPundit reader and haven't read all my posts on why democracy is not a panacea check out some of my older posts on democracy: "Prospect Of Democracy Breeding Ethnic Hatred In Iraq" and "Robert Conquest On The Limits And Pitfalls Of Democracy" and "History Of American Interventions Bodes Poorly For Democracy" and "Democracy Requires A Supporting Set Of Beliefs" and "Will Democracy Make Middle East Governments More Anti-American?" and "Low Per Capita Income Countries Never Remain Democracies" and "A Critical Look At Natan Sharanky's Democracy Argument".

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 May 22 04:02 PM  Immigration Culture Clash

John S Bolton said at May 22, 2005 4:21 PM:

There should be policies to entrain net emigration of Moslems, on the very largest feasible scale. There is nothing to be gained but war and dictatorship from having masses of such enemies in the better countries. Consideration of this, should suggest also what the motivation of officials, in harboring such populations, would be. For Europe, in particular, there is no population more likely to precipitate civil war, and power comes from this; and it goes into the hands of the very officials who used aggression on the net taxpayer to traitorously assist the immigration of just such enemies.

Stephen said at May 22, 2005 6:29 PM:

I'd have thought that the response to the "Death to all muslims" defacement is no different to the response expected to a similar defacement of any equivalent book. There's always a group somewhere who would see such a defacement as a chance to use it as proof of persecution of their particular faith. As for the piss-christ thing, a brief google search reveals that catholics didn't 'quietly endure', rather there were plenty of death threats and threats to bomb the work along withever art happened to be displayed in the same gallery.

Its not a 'muslim problem', rather its a 'religion problem' - muslims just happen to be the flavour of the month.

marie said at May 22, 2005 6:47 PM:

And how many bombings took place in response to piss christ? None that I can recall. The issue isn't religion so much as how many members of your religion are nutters willing to do violence in the name of that religion, and what does your religion teach? Every religion has a couple nutters who'll make death threats. Hell, the Democratic and Republican Parties have nutters who'll make death threats. The issue is what percentage of your religion are violent nutjobs and what do you teach. From where I sit, the majority of Muslims are fascist crazies who are illiterate and engage in cousin marriage. They're the practically satanic hillbillies of every upper west side liberals' nightmare. You can not say the same about any other very large religion out there. I worry that any initiative to purge the US of Muslims would play out as genocide in many other countries. Russia and China would just love the go ahead. For the world's Muslims, at a certain point, people are going to stop caring as it becomes even more obvious they're at war with everybody. Even then, it'll still be possible for them to sneak in or claim to profess a different religion. Remember (what's it called?) taqqiya.

Stephen said at May 22, 2005 6:57 PM:

I don't think its appropriate to think in terms of national borders when looking at religions. After all, religions don't recognise national borders and tend to infect people irrespective of where they happen to live. Stopping immigration is one thing, but what do you do about those citizens (born and raised) who happen to have converted?

I have another solution - let attrition do its work. Immigrant groups tend to dissolve into the broader population over a few years ('few' when measured relative to the time span of nations), and so long as the dissolve rate is greater than the replacement rate, then the problem eventually vanishes. I once read some research about the extent to which immigrant groups 'dissolved' into broader society by way of marriage outside the group (because of the immigrant groups cited it must have been a UK study). I recall that it concluded that most immigrant groups tended to marry outside their group to such an extent that the group was diluted on average by some 20% every five years. However, the rate of inter-marriage wasn't the same for all groups but varied depending on nationality and, within the group, by gender.

Does anyone know of any similar US or European research?

Randall Parker said at May 22, 2005 7:10 PM:


No Catholic priests called for Serrano's death. He didn't have to disappear from public view. No publisher feared putting a picture of his stuff in a book. The reaction was orders of magnitude less severe than the reaction to, say, Satanic Versus or Submission. When was the last time someone in the US got killed for insulting Christianity? Surely it must happen just because lots of outliers looking for a reason to kill will kill people for all sorts of reasons. But it is rare and gets no support from organized religions.

As for intermarriage rates: These vary greatly by ethnic and religious group. No, 20% per 5 years is not reasonable, much too high. Muslims have very low intermarriage rates. East Asians and Jews have high intermarriage rates. I've seen data on this slicing it in various ways. I'm too lazy to google it up. I've also done posts on Muslim practices of bringing in cousins to marry. Not only are the intermarriage rates with local populations low a lot of the Muslims in some Western countries don't even marry Muslims who are not from their extended families. Again, I'm feeling too lazy to look but I've got data on this for some European countries in old posts.

Kurt said at May 22, 2005 7:39 PM:

All immigrants and those appling for green cards are required to take an oath that they are not a member of any organization that advocates the overthrow of democratically elected governments. Its time that we start holding these people to this oath. Any of these wahhabbi priests who advocate the overthrow of elected government and its replacement with islamofascistism should be rounded up and deported out of the U.S. to a muslim country of their choice.

For years, we did not allow communists or former Nazis to immigrate to the U.S. Why should we treat the advocates of political islam any different? The fact is that political islam should be treated as a state ideology, rather than a religion. This will prevent these people from hiding behind the veil of religious freedom.

Living in the U.S. is a priviledge, not a right. It is high time we make this clear to these people.

Stephen said at May 22, 2005 7:51 PM:

Hi Marie, I agree about the nutjobs - whoever patents a nut job detector will make a fortune. That said, religion is a lightening rod to your average loony extremist. I don't agree that the majority of muslims are crazies - there's 1.2 billion of them and if the majority were extremists civilisation would be in deep trouble. I think its more that 2% of the members of any group are insane at any particular time, and George has managed to ensure that that insanity is directed toward the west. Also, a lot of those 1.2 billion are merely nominal adherents. I've travelled in the region and the locals don't stop for prayers five times a day - sure some did, but the majority just went about their business.

I'm not entirely satisfied that the riots were about the Koran flushing incident (which by the way appears to fit the pattern of prisoner abuses being reported). The reference to shops being looted indicates a far more prosaic motivation, and my guess is that those who were shot were busily carrying away tv sets.

Braddock said at May 23, 2005 4:41 AM:

We know that the average IQ's of the major ethnic groups that support Islam are quite low, relative to east asian and european IQs. In other words, they are not dumb because they are muslim, rather they are muslim because they are dumb. But dumb is not the same as insane. Unfortunately, there seems to be a higher rate of insanity among muslims as well. Not all of them, but more of them than you would expect statistically, based upon western rates of psychosis.

Daveg said at May 23, 2005 6:55 AM:

Kolbe v Graf is very nice race to target in 2006 if you want to send a message about US immigration policy. Small district, very close to the minutemen project, and a highly visible open-boarders republican. Flipping just 5000 votes would have national policy implications.

The fact is, this race starts this fall, and Randy will need money from everyone who cares on this issue.

Bumping Kolbe off would be huge as not only would we get rid of an open-boarders extremist, but we would pick up a strong advocate of controlled boarders. We would also send a message to others that open-boarders is a losing position.

A contribution of a dollar now, is like two dollars in the fall, and four dollars in the winter. Get out from behind your terminal and write a check, today.

Dave Schuler said at May 23, 2005 9:46 AM:

As in all eschatalogical religions folk practice in Islam is a cargo cult. They're having tremendous difficulty reconciling the poverty and misery they see around them with the teachings that promise them heaven on earth.

Pico said at May 23, 2005 12:07 PM:

There is no middle ground or room for compromise between a West in which the aim of life is to produce and consume as much as possible and the world of Islam in which the aim of life is to be true to God's will.

Jaime said at May 23, 2005 1:35 PM:

I know this is purely anecdotal and one-of, but here it is. An observant US Muslim colleague of mine told me that he has two kids and he is "behind" his siblings. One of his siblings has four kids and the other has seven! Demographic warfare is well under way here in the US.

Rick Darby said at May 23, 2005 3:08 PM:

As a society, we are still trying to awaken from a dream: the "one world," "family of man" ideology that has been an article of faith for 50 years now. The idea that the Iowa farmer and the African Bushman and the Saudi Imam are all brothers under the skin, essentially the same because they are all human, has been taught and accepted as axiomatic in our culture (but not in all others).

Well, there are some ways in which people are basically alike regardless of race, color, or creed; but the range of cultural difference remains vast, and contrary to the hopes of some technophiles, the differences in cultural values do not seem to be withering just because everyone has televisions and cell phones.

It's a hard truth to accept, but we can't trust "mutual understanding' to ensure that the lion will lie down with the lamb. Probably many Muslims somewhat misunderstand the West (and no doubt we do not completely fathom the Islamic world view if we were not raised in it), but on the whole by now we understand each other pretty well. And it is clear that the differences in values are immense -- to the extent that we do not just disagree on basic questions of what life is about, but on the issue of whether it is possible to live agreeably side-by-side with others who don't share the same religious persuasion.

That does not in itself answer the question of how the West is to respond to radical, aggressive Islam. But if we fail to acknowledge that we are playing the game by different rules, we can't begin to sort out the problems that we have to deal with, now and in the future.

Daveg said at May 23, 2005 3:53 PM:

I blame star trek.

(name withheld) said at May 23, 2005 4:11 PM:

I have a suggestion certain to bring out the worst in the Islamists:


The violent radicals have thier favorite passages from Marx, the Bible, the Koran, Mein Kampf, ect. Print them on toilet paper (original on the front, translation on the back) and sell rolls.

Imagine the promotion: "Wipe your butt on hate speech!"

The only people to get offended by crapping on hate speech would be the ones who deserve it, and they would make themselves look like dangerous fanatics if they said anything about it.

You heard it here first. Idea goes to whoever wants it.

D Flinchum said at May 24, 2005 5:23 AM:

"The End of Faith - Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" by Sam Harris. Great read on this subject.

DeDawg said at May 26, 2005 4:53 PM:

I second the book recommendation. As Harris points out, while faith itself is the problem, it is also the source of differences, making it inaccurate to lump all fundamentalisms in one homogenous muddle. A Christian fundamentalist obviously strives for very different things than a Muslim fundamentalist. I don't care for either, but they are certainly not interchangeable. So I disagree with the idea that this is simply a 'flavor of the month' phenomenon.

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